If you want to read our indictment of Joba Chamberlain‘s poor outing last night, head on down to Joe’s recap. I’m not here to talk about Ol’ Two-Out Run Joba. I want to talk about bunting and why it’s generally a very bad idea.
Baseball is a game played without a clock. Instead of 48 or 60 minutes, baseball teams get precious outs. Each side has 27 of them, and at the end of those 27 outs, whichever team has more runs wins. Just as teams don’t like to give up minutes in football, why should managers leading a team on offense ever opt to give up outs? Some will say it improves their chances of winning, but in reality it doesn’t.
In fact, it has been proven that at no point in the game does giving up an out in exchange for a base lead to a better chance at scoring runs — and runs, after all, represent the ultimate goal of a baseball game. Before we arrive at Nick Swisher, Joe Girardi and the bunt that made me want to punch a wall, take a look at Baseball Prospectus’ run matrix. This chart details how many runs a team at bat scores in any given situation. For example, with runners on 1st and 2nd with no one out, a team is expected to score 1.50766. With one out and runners on 2nd and 3rd, a team is expected to score 1.43489 runs.
There are two key points here. First, with that extra out and extra base, a team’s total runs scored decreases by around 0.07 runs. Is that by itself worth eschewing the bunt? Probably not. After all, a team with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 1 out still scores, on average, more than 1 run in that situation. There is, however, a need to consider who is batting.
And now, we return to the Yankees. According to Jack Curry, Joe Girardi, with two on and no one out, asked Nick Swisher to bunt. Now, Nick Swisher is a power hitter. On the season, he has a 123 OPS+ and has hit 123 career home runs. He also gets on base 37 percent of the time — and, by the way, a team with bases loaded and no one out scores, on average, over two runs in that situation.
So Girardi asks Nick Swisher to bunt. Coming into tonight’s game, Nick Swisher had 7 career bunts in 2978 career plate appearances. Three of those bunts came this year. Not so surprisingly, Nick Swisher popped out, and the runners did not advance.
In the end, last night’s game really annoyed me. Joba was really bad, and the Yanks couldn’t protect an early 4-0 lead. They nearly mounted a comeback, but Joe Girardi stupidly managed it away. They still have a six-game lead, but Girardi has been a slave to bad strategy all year. Had the slumping Melky been up with Jeter behind him, I could see why the team might want to bunt, but Nick Swisher is a hitter. He should never ever be bunting after the Yanks got six batters on and the tying run is already in scoring position with no one out. It just doesn’t make sense.